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Desperate for optimism: schedule surfing season halves

There is a saying I came up with, and it goes like this: "It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish."

Well obviously, our Wildcats are off to a terrible start. And given how good we’ve generally been in the last three years, this season counts as a terrible disappointment so far.

But maybe, just maybe, our relative satisfaction with the previous years and our relative angst this year is a function of how our schedule has panned out.  Yes, this is grasping at straws, looking for even a shred of optimism.  But hear me out.

I would posit that in the last three years, favorable schedules allowed our Wildcats to get off to fast starts, perhaps even build confidence and/or hype for a strong stretch run.  In 2008, we started off 5-1, then went 4-2 in the second half, before a bowl loss. In 2009, we went 4-2 in the beginning, 4-2 in the second half, before a bowl loss. In 2010, we were 5-1 to start the season, then 2-2 with Persa, 0-2 without, before a bowl loss.

So maybe my saying is wrong, that it really is how you start, not how you finish. Whatever, just hit the jump, if you're still with me or still want to follow my desperate logic.

Our schedules have, in general, involved playing four non-conference patsies in our first few games, and then the Big Ten schedule-makers have typically given us a break by putting all our toughest conference games towards the end of the season.

In the last three years, we’ve started with four out of our first six games at home. This year, it’s the opposite: four road games, two at home.

Twice, in the last three seasons, we’ve gone 4-0 against our easy non-conference slate, and the year we didn’t, we went 3-1.  This year, however, we had three non-conference games to start the year, two on the road, and as you all know, we went 2-1, so we're missing a gimme win before starting Big Ten play.

In both 2009 and 2010, our Big Ten schedules started with Minnesota, then Purdue, two of the worst teams in the conference. True, in both years, we crapped the bed against one of those teams, going 1-1 to start off the conference slate, but that’s better than the trio of tough Big Ten games we had this year: ranked Illinois, even higher ranked Michigan, and always tough rival Iowa. (In 2008, we started with Iowa and ranked Michigan State, going 1-1).

The formula seems pretty simple: get off to a 4-0 or at least 3-1 start in nonconference, split your first two conference games, and you’re sitting at 5-1 or 4-2 at the halfway point, feeling pretty good about yourself as the tough part of the schedule looms.

Instead, this year we sit 2-4, and I don’t get any sense that we are playing with any confidence at all. I know for me, every time our offense fails to score, I’m on edge, just waiting for that long-bomb pass to sail over the heads of our secondary for an easy touchdown.

We were 2-1 after our season-opening nonconference games, and maybe if the Rice game was moved up to September, we'd be 3-1, which feels a lot better than 2-1.  And then if our Big Ten schedule was reversed, so that we played Indiana and Minnesota early, then maybe, just maybe, we'd be feeling alright about our team.

We could conceivably go 4-2 in the back half of our regular season, which normally would be pretty good, but even if we do that this season, it’d be steeped in the stench of the first half’s disappointment. Really, we never got a chance to be excited about this team, save for maybe a week after the BC game, before BC imploded and turned out to be a bad team.

Grasping at straws? Sure. None of this excuses the fact that good teams take care of business, no matter the hand they’re dealt. Still, though, the schedule could have been nicer.